10 RoboHelp tips you won't want to miss

I've been using RoboHelp for nearly a decade now. I started off with an older Word-based version to create WinHelp, and now I work with the HTML version to create WebHelp for locally installed and server-based products. Here are a few RoboHelp tips that I've found useful in my day-to-day help authoring responsibilities.

Use version control for multi-author projects

Version control systems, such as the built-in RoboHelp source control and Microsoft's Visual Source Safe, can save a lot of headaches for multi-author projects. Such tools prevent writers from overwriting each other's work, and allow you to recover older versions of files when things go amiss.

Learn XML to work under the hood

Sometimes it is beneficial to work under the hood by editing XML source files. For example, editing rhbag.apj allows you to add many baggage files to the project without a lot of pointing and clicking.

JavaScript functionality can be modified

By rewriting some JavaScript, you can make changes to the way WebHelp output functions. For example, check out this WebHelp search modification.

Publish location settings make life simple

In the single source options, define a publish location. This allows you to copy all generated help content to a server with the click of a button. You can specify an FTP site, local file folder, or a server as a publish location.

Browse sequences serve many purposes

The browse sequence feature in RoboHelp can serve many purposes. For example, if you are sending several updated topics for an internal review, you can create a browse sequence containing only those topics.

Snippets are great for ensuring consistency

When many topics contain boilerplate content, you can use snippets to keep them consistent. Any changes you make to the snippet will be reflected in all topics that use the snippet. For merged help systems, simply copy and paste the updated .HTS file into the root folder of each child project, overwriting the old version.

Understand the benefits and limitations of each help format

You can avoid a lot of performance and compatibility issues by understanding how each output format works. For example, WebHelp works great on a server or when installed locally, but your topics may look different in various browsers. Microsoft HTML Help (CHM) packages everything into a single file, but must be downloaded and run locally because of security issues. Research each format carefully so you can choose most appropriate for your users.

Visit the forums

The Adobe RoboHelp forums are frequented by experts, and you can find the answers to many questions there. You can also join the forum and post questions of your own.

Read the help

RoboHelp's own help system is quite extensive. You can find details about the source and output files that make up a help system, procedures for using advanced features, API documentation, and more. If you want to become a RoboHelp expert, the help topics are a great place to start.

Use the command line

RoboHelp now offers the ability to compile from the command line. You can write scripts that compile your help, make post-generation changes to the output, publish it to multiple locations, and then archive the source files for safe keeping. Create a desktop shortcut for such a script, and the whole process becomes as simple as clicking the icon.

Hopefully these tips will help you be more productive, or at least save you a few headaches. Feel free to leave a comment if you have a tip you'd like to share.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like: